Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

I’m always thrilled to welcome Marilyn (aka F. M.) Meredith to my blog. Today she is discussing “Choosing Names for Characters and ‘Rules’ I’ve Broken.” 

When I first began writing the Rocky Bluff P.D. series I didn’t know as much about writing as I do now. There are some rules or suggestions about character names that are to help the reader no tget confused about who is who. Some of these include not having names that sound alike or rhyme, not using names with the same first letter—that’s the one I’ve broken the most. Another is using names that are right for the time period. No problem with that since the series is contemporary. Picking names that somehow convey the character—like not naming a strong male character Cuthbert.

With this particular book I had two names I had to use because two people who happen to be friends won a contest to be characters in the book and they requested to be a particular type of person. I’m not going to explain further because I don’t want to spoil anything.

The character who appears in all the books is Doug Milligan. I have a cousin and a nephew with the name Doug and I’ve always liked the name.

I’ve had the most fun with a character called Gordon Butler. When he first appeared, I had no idea he would become so important in other books. The name just seems to fit him.

My first African American character is called Felix Zachary. I don’t remember where Felix came from, but Zachary seemed like the perfect surname for this ongoing character. Chandra Taylor is the new police chief, also African American, and the name came out of nowhere and fits her perfectly.

Sometimes I have to work at finding the right name and for that purpose I’ve hung onto graduation programs over the years, a wonderful collection of first and last names. And of course, if I’m looking for a particular ethnic name, the Internet is a great source.

If a name doesn’t fit a character, I have a hard time remembering it. When that happens, I know I need to come up with a new name.

What about you other authors out there? Do you have a system for choosing names for your characters?


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved, by F. M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including hisestran ged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing with a 10% discount and free shipping and from all the usual places.




F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra.

Visit her at and her blog at




Tomorrow, May 4, she answers the question “Why a Blog Tour?” on

Comments on: "GUEST BLOG BY F.M. MEREDITH" (9)

  1. Thanks for sharing your tips on naming characters. Am reading John Sanford right now, and always laugh when I see his Del Capslock. Great name he got from looking at his keyboard!

  2. Thank you for commenting Nancy, and so early too.

  3. In my latest book I tried out three names for the main character before I finally settled on just the right one. Thank goodness for Word Search and Replace. The book is set in 1970 on a commune so coming up with hippie names was really fun. Struggled to find one that was both hippie and a little sinister for the bad guy.

  4. I’ve changed the name of a character before, and done Seach and Replace–and it screwed up some things. Glad it worked okay for you, Carolyn.

    • I did a search and replace to change the word “purse” to “pocketbook.” Fortunately, I checked – someone who “pursed her lips” now “pocketbooked her lips!”

  5. Thank you for sharing, Meredith. I name my characters similarily – no rhyming, no same first letter, etc. I usually keep an excel ‘cast’ list or each series, so I can double check with already named characters before I add a new one in case I forget. When looking for foreign names, I’ll google for something like Brazilian Olympic team. Then I’ll take a first and last name from different people. I also keep a general name list to pick from that I use to collect names I’ve heard that I like. And like many writers, I bought a big book of names for babies that includes what the name means.

  6. Nancy, that’s exactly how I do it too, except for the excel list–think I should adopt that idea.

  7. Ilene, I was having the worst time trying to comment and promote this blog while I was out of town–but in any case, I think you so much for hosting me.

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